A welcome sign of early maturity was being allowed to accompany the men of the family to a football match. League division three. Having left work at lunchtime on Saturday, men from all over the City would walk in noisy groups to congregate at the ground. From the air it must have looked like an ant's nest. No parking problems here; the very few arriving by car merely parked at the kerb.
A large and inviting public house stood opposite the ground, allowing long distance supporters to slake their thirst. It was not unknown to find one or two of the players in there also, holding court with a few workmates. Players had already put in a week of work at local factories to supplement earnings, as these were lower than those received by most of the spectators.
My initial vantage spot for the match involved wrapping my legs around the neck of an accommodating uncle, holding on tightly to his ears. Occasionally he took small sips from a small brown bottle in his back pocket – "Tonic for the chill, Joey". A series of broad concrete steps were available but our chosen spot was the side of a large cinder hill – the Spion Kop. This, hinted the uncle darkly, was to assist with drainage. In later years I joined the older boys, moving to the front of the crowd, and sitting cross-legged on the sideline of the pitch.
Spectators wore cloth caps, large blue and white rosettes, and were heavily bescarved, with some enthusiastic types twirling large wooden rackets at considerable risk to fellow supporters. The playing style was a thick coating of Brylcreme with centre parting; heavy moustaches helped to hide numerous missing teeth. Experienced players disdained shin guards and socks were worn around battle-scarred ankles. No one feigned injury here – any player not immediately springing to his feet after a tackle was removed to theatre for major surgery.
Sadly, the walk home was usually a rather more despondent affair. But next week ...